Monday, December 5, 2011

Soaring Tuition Could Cost State in Long Run

During the 2010 Maryland Gubernatorial campaign, both O’Malley and Ehrlich tried to appeal to college students and their parents by railing against the rising cost of tuition. In recent years, many institutions felt the need to raise tuition and fees when the state could no longer afford to grant them lucrative handouts. Of course, the colleges made no secret on how they would make up the difference.

Perhaps the community colleges and universities of our great state should have reevaluated some of their priorities prior to demanding more money from their customers. In other words, they should have weighed certain extra curricular activities and other luxuries to see if the reduction in their size and scope would eliminate the need to raise tuition. Now, I realize the need for some of these campus perks. Still, every college I’ve ever considered had enough associations and clubs to appeal to just about every student.

Eventually, the soaring cost of tuition will put Maryland public institutions at a competitive disadvantage. Over the past year, I decided to pursue a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice. I naturally thought I would get the best deal using my residency status to get a lower rate. All told, a graduate course at University of Maryland University College would cost me around $1500 a course. Just before the fall semester, I balked at the cost and postponed my return to school.

During this time, I started to casually research other universities. Since my work schedule forbids attending class on a set day/time each week, I opt for online classes. Therefore, my pool of potential matches increases greatly under this scenario. Looking around, I discovered that many accredited universities across America try to woe students by offering reasonable prices.

After considering all my options, I applied to a school in Kansas known as Fort Hays State University . Though they have many students attending classes on their beautiful campus in Hays, Kansas , they also have an extensive distant learning curriculum. Long short, they accepted my application late last week.

Now instead of paying the exorbitant prices charged by University of Maryland University College, I will get a similar education for $700 a course. No doubt, both Fort Hays State and I make out on this deal. I never dreamed I could get my Masters Degree for just over $7,000.

Meanwhile, this state has lost potential revenue because they could not keep their costs under control. As more and more people seek virtual courses, competition among universities will heat up. As of now, Maryland colleges have priced themselves out of the equation. And with the threats of more cuts in state aid on the horizon in fiscal year 2013, tuition almost certainly will rise again.

In fairness, state run universities technically operate as non-profit agencies. Nonetheless, they theoretically want to attract people that wish to further their educational endeavors. Hence, it’s time to bring down the cost of tuition. Think about it; online students do not use a great deal of university resources. Why not slash the price in half considering the university will continue to come out ahead despite the drop in revenue? In the end, the influx of new students will offset that proposition.

Come January, I suspect we’ll hear the college presidents spewing their annual threats. This time, students should make it clear that they won’t accept that proposition. In the meantime, I’ll see how this unfolds as I attend virtual classes at Fort Hays State University . Go Tigers!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Speed Cameras Coming To Annapolis

Ever since Maryland allowed local jurisdictions to erect speed cameras, Anne Arundel County has elected to decline to take part in the program. Granted, the state has stepped in and placed some within work zones along Route 295. Still, our county has not exploited this revenue opportunity like many of our neighboring jurisdictions. Now, the city of Annapolis wants to tap into this well.

This week, the Annapolis City Council unanimously approved legislation that fines vehicle owners $40 for traveling 12 or more miles over the posted limit within designated school zones. Amazingly, not a single resident spoke out against the measure during the public hearing.

On its face, the use of speed cameras looks like sound public policy. After all, most parents would support increased speed enforcement around their child’s school. Of course, the motive doesn’t really involve safety. Rather, it’s little more than a money grab for cash strapped municipalities. Typically, a local government will contract with a vendor, who will maintain the equipment, forward the picture of the offending vehicle to police and then mail the citation to the owner. In other words, speed cameras truly mean a cash cow to the businesses behind them.

In theory, the potential for profit shouldn’t make its way into this argument. Still, these enforcement tools often disappear once the revenue fails to meet certain expectations. For instance, Baltimore County recently moved three speed cameras when the once lofty profit projections evolved into a net-loss. Likewise, red light and speed cameras disappeared in other areas such as Arizona and Los Angeles once the earnings didn’t outgain the operating expenses. Wait a minute, didn’t they cite safety concerns as the primary reason for installing these machines?

Bottom line, old-school police enforcement remains the best tool for getting drivers to slow down. If they increase their presence in school zones for a couple weeks, most drivers will cautiously slow down for months. Besides, under this scenario an officer can cite an actual driver instead of automatically punishing the vehicle owner.